Sunday, April 26, 2015

Yes, I Am Supporting the May 5th Bond Proposal--Join Me!

The Ann Arbor Public Schools have a bond proposal on the ballot on May 5th. It's a renewal. I am supporting it.

Here's why:

1. The bond monies will be used to do things like buy new school buses, upgrade and add safety features to schools and school playgrounds, and replace school furniture. It can't be used for things like teacher salaries.

2. If we don't support the bond, necessary projects (like school buses) will have to be taken from the per-pupil operating funds, which would mean less money for students.

3. We cannot (thanks to Proposal A) ask for a levy for more monies for operating costs (unless we do a countywide millage)--so the best we can do is to keep those non-operating costs coming out of other revenue streams.

Read the AAPS information about the bond proposal here.

I hope you will 
join me in supporting this 
bond renewal 
on May 5th!

[And yes, I will also be supporting Proposal 1 on the ballot. I'll write about that later this week.]

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Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Discovering (and Remembering) My First Grade Teacher, Mrs. Delfosse

My first grade teacher, Doris Delfosse, died recently. My mom sent me her obituary. (Thanks Mom!)

There were some things in it that I knew about her.

I knew that she was a devoted and well-loved first grade teacher.
I didn't know that she taught for over 35 years.
I didn't know that she was the president of the Rye Teachers Association.

I have a vague memory of doing grave rubbings with her.
I didn't know she did that as part of a big Thanksgiving-focused unit. Every year.

We lived in one of the first towns settled on the east coast (1660).
It has the Square House, which at one point was the local inn, and "George Washington and Lafayette slept there!"
I didn't know that Doris Delfosse was a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution, or that she volunteered to share American history and early American homemaking skills at the Square House.

And I really didn't know that Mrs. Delfosse, herself, created an important part of American history, and opened the door for women who came after her.

Here's why reading obituaries can be so enlightening. From the obituary:

Doris Delfosse... 
"was the first working woman 'allowed' to adopt a child in the state of California in 1966, after proving to the adoption agency and courts that a woman could indeed work and raise a family."

That's right. Doris Delfosse loved teaching--and children--so much, that she went to court to force the system to allow her to adopt, because she wanted to keep working. She didn't want to be a stay-at-home mom, she wanted to be a teacher and a mom.

[This reminds me a bit of a case that is coming shortly to the Supreme Court--the case of April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse--expanding the idea of who is a "fit" parent.]


Here's something I remember about Mrs. Delfosse's class. If we got in line to go somewhere (perhaps a special, like art or gym) and then we had to wait for some reason, she kept us occupied by having us imagine that our tongue was a person with jobs to do, like sweeping the ceiling and the floor of our mouths (with our tongue). Nowadays they are called "oral motor exercises," and I imagine that she learned them while working with kids with speech delays--but we just thought they were fun.

Here's to you, Mrs. Delfosse--thanks for your devotion to kids.

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Monday, April 20, 2015

Guest Post: Guns First, and That's Great! What's Next for Activists?

This is a guest post from A3Teacher, an Ann Arbor teacher who posts here from time to time.

For many Ann Arbor community members, an issue of whether guns should be allowed in schools is one that has a clear answer: NO.  Many, many families, parents, and students came to board meetings expressing their strong convictions against having guns in our public community schools. The board, on April 15th voted for a resolution banning guns from our schools.  In Ann Arbor, rallying against guns in schools is easy.  On an issue that has such clear and logical implications, it is easy for parents, teachers, community members, and students to get on board with and advocate against guns in our schools.  


I love that families made posters.  I love that there were community members who came week after week to speak to the board.  I love that community members were unafraid to speak for the safety and well-being of our students and staff.  And I would love if this enthusiasm and passion made its way into other areas of concern for Ann Arbor Public Schools and the State of Michigan.  Many decision makers stopped listening to teacher voices years ago (or perhaps teachers need to speak out more clearly, loudly, and with a unified voice), and the reality is that we need more parents, families, and students, to raise their voices about issues pertaining to their schools.


The issue of guns in schools was easy because there was a pretty clear outcome from the beginning; most people, I believe, knew that ultimately (whether now or later) guns would not be a permanent fixture in our schools.  This was an easy issue to get on board with and add to the cadre of voices echoing the same perspective.  There are many other issues that are complex, require a lot of time, discussion, and consideration that are not as clear cut.  Below are two that I think are important to AAPS’ success in the future as well as questions to ask of your leaders (principals, district administration, etc.), and actions parents, students, and community members could take.  I welcome thoughts in the comments section.  


1. New and new to district teacher compensation.  In 2013 the Economic Policy Institute listed Ann Arbor as Michigan’s most expensive city in which to live.  With freezes, cuts, increased contributions from employees to benefits, and partial freezes to those who increased their educational levels, Ann Arbor and the State of Michigan must consider how it will retain “the best and the brightest.”  Back in 2002 the State Board of Education laid out specifics in their document “Ensuring Excellent Educators”, yet there is much left to be desired in regard to the work outlined in this task force report.  If our state economy is recovering, as our Governor insists, shouldn’t we be investing some of that money back into schools instead of raiding the K-12 School Aid Fund to pay for the general budget deficit?  [Editor's Note: On May 5th you can vote for an Ann Arbor schools bond renewal, and for Proposal 1, which will keep some monies in the School Aid Fund.]

If it cares about attracting and retaining very high quality teachers (as opposed to allowing mediocre or poor teachers to latch onto the system and hide until it’s too late to dismiss them), it must wisely invest in its younger teachers. Otherwise, newer teachers and millennials will move and find other cities, states, and districts to work for.  Perhaps this means that teachers, families, AAPS, and community members need to lobby in Lansing and actively enter the realm of politics in an organized fashion.  The largest factor in student growth and learning is not computers or technology, it is not a specific curriculum or fancy buildings, it is the quality of its teachers (one of many sources confirms this concept).  Teachers are the most important and influential factor in student growth.  It is time to show its teachers that they are valued.  


Questions to ask:  
  1. How is Ann Arbor actively retaining and rewarding its best teachers?  
  2. How is Ann Arbor showing its teachers that it values the work that they do besides a salary and benefits?  
  3. Why has Ann Arbor frozen “steps” (a type of pay increase teachers get with seniority)?
  4. Why has Ann Arbor chosen not to fully recognize (with compensation) teachers who increase their education?

[Editor's Note: Similar questions could be asked in other districts. In Dexter they are having big issues with health insurance; in Ypsilanti, the pay rates for teachers are very low.]


Actions you could take:
  1. Send an email to your school’s teacher or administrator about teachers who do fantastic things for your students.  Conversely, also send messages about teachers who are not so great.  If we want to increase the number of great teachers in schools, administration needs to hear not only about the great teachers, but also about the not-so-great ones.  
  2. Attend a board meeting and share a story about how a teacher has positively impacted your student (In the past, families have used board meetings to raise issues of problematic teachers, but I have yet to see a parent, family, or student tell a positive story about a teacher.  Perhaps this is because there is an assumption that all teachers should be doing their jobs with or without recognition).  
  3. Write a letter to board members and Dr. Swift directly (the entire board and the superintendent can be reached at boe@aaps.k12.mi.us or individual board e-mails are available here, and Dr. Swift can be reached at swift@aaps.k12.mi.us) asking them some or all of the questions above.  
  4. Contact your legislators and ask them what they are doing in order to support increased funding to schools and teacher retention (you can find your representatives here and your senators here).  If you dig deeper and look at bills up for proposal, ask your legislators to vote for or against specific aspects of those bills.  It is not as effective to simply ask legislators to provide more funding to schools - be specific in regard to current legislation.  


2. Standardized tests and common assessments have taken over a large portion of schools’ calendars.  These can be used to drive instruction, although I have yet to see it truly used successfully.  There is a growing movement that questions the benefits of these tests to students, their validity of the actual tests, and their use in regard to teacher evaluations and instruction.  There are many independent schools that (as a selling point) tout the fact that they do not overload their students with the types of standardized tests that many public schools do.  Besides teacher-created classroom assessments and school-wide exams (given two to three times per year dependant on the high school), a high school junior next year could potentially have:
  • the SAT,
  • the ACT WorkKeys,
  • the M-STEP,
  • any AP tests,
  • district common assessment/s (dependant on the subject),
  • building specific assessments in content areas (known as SMART Goals - this changes based on the subject and department’s decision),
  • the SRI twice (which measures Lexile reading scores).  


Questions to ask:  
  1. How is each of these these assessments and tests necessary for our students?  
  2. How are these assessments and tests representative of growth and learning?  
  3. Will my student(s) be able to use their test scores in order to learn and grow?  
  4. How can we be smart, as a district, with the data that comes out of standardized testing so that it positively impacts learning and growth?  Which tests could we cut?
  5. Why is the state using texts which have not been validated or used before?


Actions you could take:
  1. Ask questions of your district and board of education.  Ask questions by speaking at a board meeting or through writing.  Become a part of the public record and seek answers.  In addition, this shows the board and district that parents, families, and students have a vested interest in their schools.  Remaining silent send the (perhaps unintentional) message that the public agrees with the decisions of the district and board.    
Ask questions of your State Board of Education - you can do this in person, via phone, or in writing (Ann Arbor also has two board members who live in town:  Eileen Weiser, a Republican and John Austin, a Democrat).   

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Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Pine River Superintendent Speaks Out--Eloquently--Against the M-STEP

The Pine River Area Superintendent, Matt Lukshaitis, sent an excellent letter to the district's local legislators, school staff, and the school board. His points are different from mine--as they should be, because his point of view is different--but I think they are really important points.

I wish that more superintendents would speak out as he has.


I had to look up where the Pine River area is--it's south of Cadillac. Here's a map to help orient you.



Honorable Gentlemen,

So far, the M-STEP process is a painful invasion of teaching and learning and really, state testing has become an oxymoron. The testing process is not good for kids.

17 different days of testing for 11th grade students? Really? This is the best we can do? We "improve" the test by going from 3 days to 17? Have we collectively lost our minds?

At Pine River, our computer labs are tied up from April 13 to June 4 for testing. This is a good use of taxpayer dollars? I cannot fathom how many great minds it takes to change a state system from one day of juniors taking an ACT test on a Saturday morning in a high school cafeteria to a system testing K-12 students over a period of two months, but I'm pretty sure between the MDE and the legislature that we have discovered the formula. I'm saddened by this.

Education is not happening.

Principals and teachers are in high stress mode. Students are not learning, they are in Sarcasm 101 mode--how hard they try is going to be a true turkey shoot.

Terri and I have five children. Number five is a senior. Looking at what we are doing to the students in our public schools, I am truly glad to know this fact.
How many people have to be in charge of the local school districts? It seems like the state and the fed have over M-STEPped their boundaries.

How about the growing resentment coming from parents who are starting to demand that we excuse their students from the testing process? And the onus of responsibility is on the LEA to make these kids test? The state is setting up public schools for imminent failure. There will be test cases in our courtrooms soon. This testing system is pushing public schools over a cliff. I am afraid there may be a long, terrifying drop into jagged rocks....

I know a lot of really smart people came up with this wonderful theory of testing. The practice of teaching and learning however, is the provenance of the LEAs. Perhaps we should all take a giant step back and allow the schools to answer the needs of their community with more freedom?

Please stem the tide of this testing. It is just too much. Listen to those of us in the schools. Sitting in an office in Lansing does not help you understand the issues. Come visit us at Pine River Area Schools. Visit every district. Go see the schools while the testing is happening and talk to the teachers and the principals. Help us help the kids.

Respectfully,

Matt Lukshaitis, Superintendent
Pine River Area Schools
Go Bucks!




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Sunday, April 12, 2015

Upcoming Meetings for Ypsilanti Community Schools Superintendent Search

In Ypsilanti, they have begun a search for a new schools superintendent. They are trying to discern what is most important in the search, and to do that they are having a series of focus groups. Here is the information about the focus groups. I have highlighted the ones that aren't generally staff or board related. I really like that they have a special time for the 2012 and 2013 Willow Run and Ypsilanti school boards.

Anyway, if you fit into any of these categories, I hope that you will go to one of these meetings!

DATE AND TIME

GROUP

LOCATION

Thursday, April 16, 1:30 p.m.
Business Owners
Board Room, 1885 Packard Rd.
Thursday, April 16, 2:00 p.m.
Central Office Administrators
Board Room, 1885 Packard Rd.
Thursday, April 16, 2:30 p.m.
Central Office Department Personnel
Board Room, 1885 Packard Rd.
Thursday, April 16, 3:00 p.m.
Support  Association Representatives and Support Staff
Board Room, 1885 Packard Rd.
Thursday, April 16, 3:30 p.m.
Building  Administrators
Board Room, 1885 Packard Rd.
Thursday, April 16, 4:00 p.m.
Teacher  Association Representatives and Teachers
Board Room, 1885 Packard Rd.
Thursday, April 16, 4:30 p.m.
Non-­-Affiliated Staff
Board Room, 1885 Packard Rd.
Thursday, April 16, 5:00 p.m.
Parent Advisory Board Members
Board Room, 1885 Packard Rd.
Thursday, April 16, 6:30 p.m.
General Public
Board Room, 1885 Packard Rd.
Tuesday, April 21, 11:00 a.m.
High School Students
To be determined
Tuesday, April, 21, 11:45 a.m.
Public  Governance Municipal, City, State
Board Room, 1885 Packard Rd.
Tuesday, April 21, 12:30 p.m.
EMU,  UM, WCC, WISD
Representatives
Board Room, 1885 Packard Rd.
Tuesday, April, 21, 1:15 p.m.
Non Profit Agencies, Clergy
Board Room, 1885 Packard Rd.
Tuesday, April, 21,1:45 p.m.
2012 WRCS and YPS Board 2013 YCS Appointed Board 2012-­-2013 Consolidation Task Forces
Board Room, 1885 Packard Rd.
Tuesday, April 21, 4:00 p.m.
General Public
Board Room, 1885 Packard Rd.

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Saturday, April 11, 2015

Upcoming Meetings About the AAPS Bond (May 5, 2015 Election)

There are two items on the May election that concern the schools. One is a local Ann Arbor school bond proposal (this is essentially a renewal). The other is Proposal 1, which is a statewide initiative that involves both schools and roads. I'm supporting both of them.

There are some upcoming meetings about the local school bond proposal. If you have questions, this is a good way to learn more.

Five Community Meetings On the May 5 Bond Proposal 

Ann Arbor Public Schools Superintendent Jeanice Swift will host five community meetings this month to share information about the bond proposal appearing on the May 5 ballot.  
Each community meeting will begin at 6:30 p.m. at the following locations:
  • Tuesday, April 14,  Slauson Middle School, Media Center
  • Thursday, April 16, Tappan Middle School, Media Center
  • Tuesday, April 21, Scarlett Middle School, Media Center
  • Thursday, April 23,  Clague Middle School, Media Center
  • Thursday, April 30, Forsythe Middle School, Media Center

Superintendent Swift encourages all citizens to attend and learn more about the proposal and have the opportunity to ask questions. 
The bond proposal would raise $33 million for capital improvements across the district’s 32 buildings, while keeping the millage rate at or below the current 2.45 mills for taxpayers.  Improvements in the plan include security upgrades at school entrances, new musical instruments, the replacement of more than 100 buses over five years, and new furniture and other upgrades in classrooms across the district.
More information on the bond proposal is available at: 
http://news.a2schools.org/community-bond-meetings-begin-next-week/And
http://news.a2schools.org/aaps-millage-request-may-5-2015/




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Thursday, March 26, 2015

Activism Means Action: Performance Art and School Board Activity on Safety and Dangerous Weapons

Guns With History: Performance Piece or Educational Video?


This is a very interesting performance art education piece on the implications of carrying a gun around. I am still trying to think about whether I like it or not, think it is effective, or not. There is something about it that bothers me a bit, but as performance art it's definitely dramatic. And it's so sad! What do you think? Let me know in the comments.

Update 3/29/2015: I was asked by a reader who found the Guns with History video very upsetting to take it down, and I have done so. [Even though I don't agree with her reasons--I did ask what people thought about it, and that was the only reaction I've gotten.] It'a s youtube video uploaded by Prevent Gun Violence, and anyone who really wants to see it can do a web search.

Thank You


Meanwhile, it's time to give thanks to the Ann Arbor school board and administration, for trying to write up policies that will restrict weapons on school property, and at the same time will stand up against a likely court challenge!  I am pasting in, below, the policies under consideration. As usual, you can share your thoughts with the entire school board and the superintendent, by emailing: boe@aaps.k12.mi.us. (And yes--even if they don't respond--they do read their emails.)

I, for one, am very appreciative of the school board's efforts.

DRAFT POLICY 5410 – Safe & Disruption-Free Environment


In accordance with the authority granted by the Revised School Code to ensure the safety and welfare of students while at school or a school sponsored activity or while en route to or from school or a school sponsored activity and to exercise powers incidental or appropriate to the performance of functions related to educating pupils, the Board of Education designates all property owned or by the Ann Arbor Public Schools “Dangerous Weapon & Disruption-Free Zones”. 

The Superintendent shall create and implement any regulations and procedures necessary to enforce such zones in order to prevent and mitigate actual or potential emergencies and threats to the safety of our students, faculty, staff, families, and citizens.

The Superintendent may exercise any power necessary, as granted and required by Michigan law, to educate students and maintain a safe and productive educational environment at all times.

The Superintendent shall ensure our commitment to the least disruptive school environment possible by refusing any person (students, employees or the public at large) attempting to access school property in order to preserve order in the educational process or to protect students from potential harm without violating any fundamental right to go onto or access school.1 This refusal may occur if the person causes either actual or a reasonable forecast of material disruption to the educational process.

1 WD Mich 2002

The Superintendent shall create and implement any regulations and procedures necessary to enforce such zones in order to prevent and mitigate actual or potential emergencies and threats to the safety of our students, faculty, staff, families, and citizens.
The Superintendent may exercise any power necessary, as granted and required by Michigan law, to educate students and maintain a safe and productive educational environment at all times.
The Superintendent shall ensure our commitment to the least disruptive school environment possible by refusing any person (students, employees or the public at large) attempting to access school property in order to preserve order in the educational process or to protect students from potential harm without violating any fundamental right to go onto or access school.1 This refusal may occur if the person causes either actual or a reasonable forecast of material disruption to the educational process.
1 WD Mich 2002


DRAFT POLICY 5420 – Dangerous Weapon and Disruption-Free Zones

The Board of Education, operating within their legal duty to ensure student safety while at school, en route to school, or at school sponsored activities, and an educational environment free from disruption, declares all properties owned or leased by AAPS as Dangerous Weapon and Disruption-Free Zones. 
No person in possession of a dangerous weapon will be allowed to remain on property owned or leased by AAPS at any time when students are at school, en route to or from school or at a school sponsored activity in accordance with Board Policy 5410 to maintain the least disruptive educational environment and to ensure the safety and welfare of students. 
A dangerous weapon shall include a firearm (including a starter gun or pistol) or any device which will or is designed to or may readily be converted to expel a projectile by the action of an explosive, any destructive device or any explosive, incendiary, or poison gas bomb, grenade, rocket having a propellant charge of more than four (4) ounces, missile having an explosive or incendiary charge of more than one-quarter ounce, mine or similar device; a dagger, dirk, stiletto, knife with a blade over three (3) inches in length, or pocket knife opened by a mechanical device, an iron bar or brass knuckles or, any other weapon as set forth in 18 USC&921. Also, any electronic device that inflicts or causes pain or suffering is likewise considered a weapon.* 
This prohibition does not apply to officers duly sworn to and in good standing with public law enforcement agencies. The Superintendent or Superintendent’s designee may authorize additional exceptions with subsequent and timely notice to the Board. 
The Superintendent shall create and implement any regulations and procedures necessary to enforce such Dangerous Weapon and Disruption-Free Zones in order to prevent and mitigate actual or potential emergencies, disruptions and threats to the safety of our students, faculty, staff, families and citizens.


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